The Lions of Chinatown: Interview with Director Law Chen
8th June 2019 by Will Stewart
The Lions of Chinatown follows a young woman as she trains to become the lion head, a traditionally male dominated role in the forgotten art of Chinese lion dancing. Sara is ending a 5 year trial and hopes to become an official member of Hung Ching, The Chinese Freemasons, New York City Chinatown’s most notorious lion dance crew since 1956.
The director of Lions of Chinatown, Law Chen, was kind enough to answer some of our questions about being a film maker, and also about this film. If you’d like to see your film on MadeGood.tv, then please feel free to make a submission.
MadeGood – Please give me some background on yourself as a film maker, and how you got into film making. Is The Lions of Chinatown a typical example of your work?
Law – I was born in the US but moved to China in middle school. Growing up in Beijing really shaped me as a filmmaker as I got to see China through both a Chinese and American lens. During college I would go home for break and shoot short films in rural villages outside of Beijing. After graduating, I decided to become a director and moved to NYC, and have been directing commercials, music videos and narrative shorts since. I would say The Lions of Chinatown, while being doc, reflects my work as it focuses on visual storytelling, an emotional core and character, and movement.
MadeGood – How did you hear about Sara, and what made you want to make a film about her? It’s a visually very arresting film, but more than Sara’s story is a very important one. Did you know from the beginning it was going to be about Sara’s, or did you initially think the film would be more about the lion dancing?
Law – Sara’s story actually began with the club itself, Hung Ching, The New York Chinese Freemason Athletic Club, and their history in Manhattan Chinatown. Right before Chinese New Year I found a news article about their lion dance club and read into the group’s history. Turns out they used to be a notorious Chinatown gang back in the 70’s, but have since become a non-profit that teaches Chinatown youths the lost art of lion dance. I reached out intending to make a short doc about the group itself, and how they transformed from infamous gang to infamous lion dance crew (they are probably the most well known crew in Chinatown these days). Over the course of following the group, I didn’t feel like I had a narrative until I met Sara. She stood out not just because she was a young woman on a team of mostly Chinese young men, but also because she had an unrelenting passion for keeping this tradition alive. The story shifted and became about her.
MadeGood – This film is almost a year old now, have you kept in contact with Sara? Has she managed to inspire any other young women to become involved in Chinese lion dancing?
Law – After we finished shooting, Sara told us she received full membership into Hung Ching, which was a huge deal for her and her family. So over the course of the two years, we saw Sara go from hopeful trial who had been training for years, to a full fledged member. I’m sure her role and outspokenness in the group will inspire other young women to join from here on out.
MadeGood – Your credited for quite a few roles in the film, so you’re obviously a very hands on film maker. But never the less, you did work within a team. Please tell me a bit more about some of the other crew members, and how you worked together on this film.
Law – I had a small team of frequent collaborators on this project, my producer Jon Hsu and cinematographer Tinx Chan. I also wore a lot of hats myself. We wanted to keep the team efficient because it was docu but also we wanted to respect the trust that Hung Ching gave us in accessing their clubhouse in Chinatown and all their current and former members.
MadeGood – What are you working on next?
Law – I’m currently working on a few long form narrative projects that are co-productions between the US and China, including a scifi series and feature.
MadeGood – Nice one Law! Sounds like a huge project you are working on, can’t wait to see it.